Sometimes, I'm fed up with traditional fantasy and want some more far-out ideas. Well, there's a campaign-setting for PFRPG out there that delivers just that, LPJr Design's
This pdf is 166 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages char-sheet, 2 pages mini-monster-sheets, 1 page condition tracker, 1 page combat & initiative tracker, 1 character advancement tracker, 4 pages of advertisements, leaving 148 pages of content, so let's check it out!
The NeoExodus campaign setting has been in the making for quite a long time and I've reviewed a lot of smaller pdfs related to the setting - from the Races-supplement to monsters and NPC-books as well as secret societies. If you don't know about the setting, I#ll try to rehash the basics for you: NeoExodus shares one distinct characteristic with many other fantasy settings - once, it was under the control of strange creatures that have been driven from the surface. These beings are collectively known as the First Ones and are by far no unified force or race, but rather enigmatic beings, races and creatures still plotting and scheming. They were defeated by their former slaves with the help of the Kaga, essentially a sentient conglomerate of thoughts of the most powerful arcanists/psionicists of the world that has become a kind of godlike sentient extranet - think sentient internet with an agenda for human dominion. (this, btw., can be considered one of the two dominant religions, with the other being a blood-magic using hardliner version of the Catholic Church that worships a kind of anima universalis in the blood of the Sanguine Lord, which constitutes the life-force of all that exists.
Ever since the First Ones have been driven underground, the lands have seen strife between large empires that have gone through the fantasy equivalent of massive wars bordering on World Wars and have only recently settled into a unified truce. Tensions still rise high, both from sources without and within and in this age of empires, conflicts might prove disastrous. Add to that the new races (more on them later) and we have a campaign setting that is very different from e.g. Golarion or similar straight medieval fantasy settings.
And this is only the beginning - in contrast to Obsidian Twilight, we get a more than aptly written, concise and cool history of the world of NeoExodus, its trials and tribulations and thus paints an imaginative, cool backdrop against which the crunch is set. It is only fitting that the first thing we'll read after the history of the world would be a list of unique elements that distinguish NeoExodus from other campaign settings and help you portray the differences in mood, themes and approaches. Major threats to the stability of NeoExodus, global threats so-to-speak, are mentioned and after that, we'll get into the write-ups of the different respective nations, which all come with basic information on settlements, forms of government, laws, population, currency etc. and even coats of arms. Fluff-only write-ups for the movers and shakers of the nations are provided alongside new hazards, detailed elaborations on how the land operates etc. - the complete opposite from the sketchy approach in OT and quite simply, an inspiring lecture that really made me want to set campaigns in these locations - the potential for global and local internal and external political strife serves to capture a rather enticing, cool setting that includes avenues for adventures galore, especially ones that go beyond standard crawling modules (though these might get a very different touch in NeoExodus...).
In the third chapter, the unique races of NeoExodus are portrayed - from the hive-mind-possessing, ratlike cavians, the crystalline cyneans, the mobile plants called Dalreans, the beast-like, mutating Enuka, the language-centered Prymidians, the cat-like P'Tan (as seen on the cover) and the secret-mongering Scorpion-people called Sassori, the races are unique indeed. The roster of races has a new-comer as well, the Kalisan. Seeing that I went into details in my review of "Races of NeoExodus", I'll only sum up the Kallisan here and some details. Kalisans are the civilized brothers of Calibans and get +2 Str, +2 Dex, -2 Int, proficiency with great-axes and falchions, the endurance feat and ferocity. If you own the Caliban-pdf, they can also take the iconic, yet disturbing Caliban racial traits and feats. It should also be noted that gevets (NeoExodus Tieflings) have their own entry - they get +2 Dex, +2 Int, -2 Wis, darkvision, outsider-blood, fire resistance 5 and males get +1d6 sneak attack damage while females get +1 caster level when casting healing spells. Generally, I liked the races and some abilities are downright awesome - Cavians for example can choose a racial trait that enables them to implant a kind of seed that makes it possible to spy on victims of their bite - neato!
Heroes of NeoExodus, chapter 4, focuses on the deities and new character options contained herein - we get a new archetype for the alchemist, the apothecary - this character is focused on creating healing salves, the Fits of the Dragon for the Barbarian, the Cleric of Kaga, the Peacekeeper fighter and the Jannissary Monk. New languages are also covered and no new setting would be complete without PrCs. NeoExodus is no exception and provides the following:
-High Guard: Personal guard of the Emperor of Caneus, 5 levels, d10, 4+ Int skills, good BAB, good fort and will - elite bodyguard class
-Imperial Man-at-arms: 5 levels, d10, 4+ Int skills, good BAB, good fort-save: Non-magical tougher-than-nails elite soldiers.
-Khalid Asad: Eternal Lions, anti-spellcaster elite assassins of the Donion. 5 levels, d8, 4+ Int skills, moderate BAB, good ref and will-saves, 2 sneak attack progressions.
-Panther Warriors: Feline-affine wild-shaping elite of the Reis Confederacy. 5 levels, d10, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, good fort and will-saves. Pouncing death at the cost of spell progression.
-Protectorate Artillerist: 5 levels, d8, 6+Int skills, medium BAB, good fort-and will-saves. Very cool PrC that is extremely deadly against constructs and can call down artillery fire when near a battery. Awesome idea - whip out the big guns without being over-powered.
-Wyrdcaster: Spellcasting elite of the Dominion, d6, 2+ Int skills per level, 10 levels, apart from the first full arcane spell progression, bad bab, moderate fort and will saves. Learns kind of super-meta-magic via talents that is called wyrd and comes at a price.
That's it with the new PrCs. While they by no means felt weak, I didn't have any balance concerns with the PrCs and actually enjoyed their flavor and the fact that they are truly PRESTIGE classes - these specializations have to be EARNED. Two thumbs up!
Chapter 5 is the crunchy heart of the book for which the players have been clamoring - we get over 80 new feats and thus I'll refrain from commenting on each and every one of them. A lot of the feats center on modifying/improving racial abilities or adding area-specific fighting styles. While not all feats are made of awesomeness, I see the usability of most of them and didn't have any substantial gripes with them. The new spell-section includes a new subtype, spells that are corrupt and belong to the providence of the tainted First Ones - in the spell-list, some religions/factions are mentioned, thus making the respective spells rather rare and adding to the uniqueness of the factions by providing signature spells. The section comes with spell-lists for bards, druids, clerics, sorc/wizs and witches, but no new tools for alchemists, summoners or magi. It is unfortunately in this section where I noticed some major formatting glitches - the spell "Bitter Ashes" says "If the save succeedsfail, the target takes 3d6 15 points of negative energy damage per caster level, ."[sic!]
This is especially a pity due to this spell being one that felt overpowered in the beta-test version of the setting. Unfortunately, the amount of typos in the spell-section exceeds what I'd consider an amount to let slip: "Army and[sic!] swarms" and minor plural/singular glitches abound. Additionally, as much as I'm loathe to say it, while I do consider several of the spells cool, there are examples that are quite simply off with regards to balance, out-classing spells of similar levels by quite a bit. DMs should tread carefully with regards to them. Note that insta-death effects do not abound as much as they did in OT and there are enough intriguing spells herein to still make the chapter interesting, it's not as good as it could have easily been with another pass at editing and some additional scrutiny with regards to balance.
Of course, we also get a selection of new weapons, armor, magic and mundane, alchemical substances and similar pieces you'd expect from a book like this. MY favorite part of this section would be the new class of books, which comes with detailed information on the book, lore-DCs, spells, bonuses for referencing it, etc. - I hope to see more of these books in future publications.
Some creatures unique to the NeoExodus setting are presented as well: The Arcanebloat-template (CR +1) has creatures suffused with unstable magical energies and are, as the aspic creatures, created by the First Ones. We also get stats for Calibans, their hounds, crystalline cats, humanoids of draconic descent, mischievous, flame-dancing fey, stats for protectorate golems, mobile cannons, melted flesh oozes, the dread quickslavers, thermic vampires and many more.
The pdf closes by providing all the stat and form-sheets you might need, as I mentioned in the beginning of this review.
Editing and formatting are mostly good - the section of spells being the unfortunate exception in a book that, in spite of its length feels like care was taken to make it feel professional. Layout, as I've coe to expect from LPJr Design, is BEAUTIFUL. The two-column style with the borders, in full color, highlighted by the GLORIOUS pieces of artwork is quite an eye-catcher and some of the portraits of rulers herein are on par with Paizo's best mug-shots. Kudos where kudos are due! The pdf is also EXTENSIVELY bookmarked - each spell, each section, each talent is bookmarked, making using the file rather easy. Seeing the length and full-color standard, the size of ~100 Mb is not that much. All right, let's get on with it: I think on the general the guys at LPJr Design have improved their editing over the course of 2011 and it really shows in this book. On the other hand, there still are some of the old glitches herein that could be caught with a bit more care. I have to be honest, I expected quite some recycling in this campaign setting, as several pdfs for NeoExodus have been released - I was quite positively surprised that both the races have been expanded and the fluff does not stop at the general history with which you might be familiar due to the "World of NeoExodus" free pdf.
Content-wise, I can't complain and indeed, the world of NeoExodus feels organic and makes sense - there are a lot of details and ideas herein that go far beyond the staple of fantasy to create a setting and options that feel fantastic again in an age where no-one is awed by yet another mystic elven nation in the woods. To cut a long ramble short - I really, really like the fresh ideas that are an integral part of NeoExodus and I'm all in favor of the diversity the world and its nations and unique focus lend towards gaming of a different style. However, rules-wise, the crunch can't always hold up to the fluff - while general balance problems are few and far between, several of the races feel rather geared towards specific classes. While the same could be said about some core-races, personally I'd prefer more broad approaches towards race-creation. My other minor point of criticism is another personal one - I would have loved to see the psionic variant of the Cavian race included as well, as I'm a big fan of psionics and enjoy NeoExodus embracing the powers of the mind. So, how do you rate a setting that features such iconic nations, a secret police focused on controlling psionics, sentient spells and a mostly benevolent blood magic religion? A setting that includes the coolest group of villains I've seen in quite a while with the Folding Circle? Were I to rate the ideas only, the uniqueness and the general guts it takes to release a setting so radically different from all other established settings I've read, I'd go for 5 stars.
On the other hand, though, the accumulation of editing glitches and minor balance concerns as well as the blatant class-focus of the races would usually make me settle on something along the line of 3 stars. In the end, both verdicts would not be justified - if you're in not only for the crunch, but mainly for the ideas and fluff, you should check this out. If you e.g. liked "The Folding Circle" or the "Annihilation Sphere", give this one a try. If you want rock-solid rules, you might want to read this book very closely and scrutinize some of its content, though. My final verdict, in spite of said minor blemishes, will thus be 4 stars, which is a bit of a pity, since it could easily have been 5 stars + seal of approval.